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TfL predicts £500m loss from virus, as services reduced

The COVID-19 virus pandemic hit the UK in early March. Since then, transport networks have seen a collapse in demand as people follow the Government’s advice to avoid large gatherings, work from home, and self-isolate. Here we report some of this week’s developments in the fast-moving story

23 March 2020

Transport for London will ask Government for financial assistance to cope with the collapse in public transport ridership caused by COVID-19.

Patronage last week was about 19 per cent down on the Tube and ten per cent down on buses compared to the same week last year. Ridership this week fell further as  people followed Government advice to work from home and self-isolate. Tourist numbers in the capital are massively down. 

London has by far the largest number of COVID-19 cases in the UK.

TfL announced on Thursday (19 March) that it would run a reduced public transport service enabling, London’s critical workers to still make essential journeys. 

Up to 40 London Underground stations that do not provide interchange with other lines were closed from Friday [20 March] until further notice. The Waterloo & City line has closed down, and the Night Tube and Night Overground are withdrawn on Fridays and Saturdays. 

From Monday 23 March TfL will gradually reduce the frequency of other services across its network while ensuring it provides a service for critical workers and that services are not overcrowded. 

TfL is aiming to run Tube trains every four minutes in Zone 1 but this could be reduced further. Service frequencies on London Overground, TfL Rail, the DLR and London Trams will all be cut.  

The bus network will move to Saturday frequencies through the week. 

Some Santander Cycle hubs in central London will be closed.

London’s Transport Commissioner, Mike Brown MVO, said: “The advice from Government is clear – people should now only be making journeys that are absolutely essential.” 

London mayor Sadiq Khan said: “People should not be travelling, by any means, unless they really, really have to. Londoners should be avoiding social interaction unless absolutely necessary, and that means they should be avoiding using the transport network unless absolutely necessary.”

TfL said it was an evolving situation. The financial impact is difficult to predict, being dependent on the duration and severity of the spread of the virus.

“TfL’s current forecast, based on Government scenarios, suggest that this could be a reduction in passenger income of up to £500m,” it said this week.

TfL said it had the cash to cope. It is required to keep a minimum cash balance of £1.2bn to provide liquidity to absorb financial shocks. TfL’s current forecast for its end of year cash balance is expected to be more than £2bn.

“This means TfL is able to manage the initial impact of COVID-19,” it said in a statement.  “TfL will consider further budgetary flexibility to ensure it maintains its financial resilience but the mayor and TfL will also be looking to the Government to provide appropriate financial support.” 

The Government’s decision to delay this May’s London mayoral election by a year will place TfL’s finances under further pressure because it means Sadiq Khan’s partial fares freeze will continue for another year. 

Khan pledged earlier this month to end the freeze if elected for a second term.

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